Watchdogs to check on all care cases

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL STANDARDS and tough inspection processes will be introduced to protect vulnerable children and old people cared for by social services, the Government announced yesterday.

Independent watchdogs in every region will regulate care services and the Secretary of State for Health will have the power to step in if care is not being properly delivered. Unveiling the White Paper Modernising Social Services, the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, said that at present "many services are not provided sufficiently, conveniently, promptly or to a high-enough standard".

Mr Dobson told the Commons that a Commission for Care Standards will be set up in every English region to regulate services across the board, whether it is care in people's own homes, residential care or fostering. Inspectors will have the power to go in without warning to check on standards of accommodation, food and hygiene. They will also be able to close homes that fail.

New national standards of performance will be laid down by ministers, and councils will be required to publish annual reports on what they have achieved.

"It matters to us all that good quality services are available," Mr Dobson said. "And it goes wider than that. Any decent society must provide for those who need support and are unable to look after themselves. We all benefit if these services are provided for those who need them."

The standards will also include guidance on what councils should charge for services such as home helps - one report found some people paid only 4 per cent of a council's spending on the service, while users in other areas paid 28 per cent - and inspection arrangements would be reformed.

Children's rights officers in every region will inspect children's homes and ensure that allegations of harm or abuse are properly investigated. They will report directly to the Chief Inspector of Social Services any significant evidence. But children's charities were disappointed that the Government did not go further and set up a national children's commissioner.

"A national children's commissioner would come to the rescue of children wherever and whenever their rights are trampled on," said the NSPCC director, Jim Harding. "He or she would fight on behalf of children against a range of problems... and would ensure that children are put at the heart of Government thinking."

A General Social Care Council will regulate training of the one million workers in social care. At present, 80 per cent of this workforce have no recognised qualifications or training. Mr Dobson said the Government was making nearly pounds 3bn extra available for social services in the next three years and announced pounds 750m was being earmarked to pay for the changes. An additional pounds 185m would be invested in mental health services.

"The new arrangements should make sure that anyone receiving social services help, whether young or old, whether living at home or in residential accommodation, is protected from neglect, abuse or exploitation," said Mr Dobson.

Chris Davies, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, welcomed the announcements but stressed that the developments called for "a sustained commitment of attention and money" to succeed.

And the National Schizophrenia Fellowship warned that new services were needed. "Homes have been inspected in the past and fallen well short of local standards but stayed open because authorities have not been able to find alternative accommodation," said Cliff Prior, the fellowship's chief executive.

Sally Greengross, director-general of Age Concern England, said the charity was "disappointed" that the Government was not ensuring all those who provided services in older people's own homes were registered. "Older people should be able to know what they can expect, when they will receive it, and that people who are coming into their homes are qualified and reliable," she said.

The Key Points

Direct payments will be extended to those over 65, giving people more control over how their needs are met.

There will be a tough new inspection regime for children's homes and a better register of people unsuitable to work with children.

Children in care can expect "radical improvements" in education opportunities and better health services, with more help as they reach adulthood.

Care services, including small children's homes and council-run homes, will be regulated by eight regional Commissions for Care Standards .

A General Social Care Council will set standards for staff and there will be a new national training strategy.